WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork/AP) – The Washington Navy Yard returned to nearly normal operations three days after it was the scene of a mass shooting in which a gunman killed 12 people.
The Navy installation re-opened at 6 a.m. Thursday. Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Flaherty said Thursday will be a regular work day, except for Building 197, where the shootings occurred, and the base gym.
She said the gym is being used as a staging area for the FBI to investigate Monday’s rampage in which former Navy reservist Aaron Alexis gunned down 12 people before being killed by police.
Employees returning to work Thursday said they still felt unsettled about what happened.
“It’s a little surreal I guess,” said Brooke Roberts, an engineer who works across the street from the building where the shooting happened.
“You don’t think this sort of thing can happen to you at your workplace, so you’re just not prepared for it, regardless,” he said as he walked by a blocked off gate he is accustomed to using to enter the Navy Yard. He described himself as feeling “still unsettled,” noting the blocked off entrance.
“It’s still not quite normal, and it probably won’t be for some time,” Roberts said.
Law enforcement officials are still trying to determine a motive for the shooting. Officials have said the 34-year-old gunman was grappling with paranoia, hearing voices and convinced he was being followed.
A month before the shootings, he complained to police in Rhode Island that people were talking to him through the walls and ceilings of his hotel room and sending microwave vibrations into his body to deprive him of sleep.
On Wednesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs told lawmakers in Congress that Alexis visited two VA hospitals in late August complaining of insomnia, but that he denied struggling with anxiety or depression or had thoughts of harming himself or others.
On Aug. 23 he visited an emergency room at the VA Medical Center in Providence, R.I. He made a similar visit five days later to the VA hospital in Washington.
Despite the apparent concerns over his mental health and past run-ins with the law, Alexis maintained his security clearance as he arrived in Washington in late August for a job as an information technology employee at a defense-related computer company.
Alexis had been a full-time Navy reservist from 2007 to early 2011, and a Navy spokesman said his security clearance, at the “secret level,” was good for 10 years from when he got it.
On Monday morning, he used a valid badge to gain access to the sprawling Navy Yard and Building 197, bringing with him a sawed-off shotgun on which the cryptic messages of “better off this way” and “my ELF weapon” were scrawled, according to a law enforcement document reviewed by The Associated Press. The meaning of those words wasn’t immediately clear.
The shotgun was brought into the building disassembled and pieced together by Alexis once inside, according to a law enforcement official and a senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Alexis also had with him during the massacre a handgun he picked up inside the building.
Meanwhile, Alexis’s mother said she does not know why her son opened fire on office workers and police.
Cathleen Alexis read a brief statement inside her home in Brooklyn Wednesday, her voice shaking. She did not take questions from a reporter.
“Our son, Aaron Alexis, has murdered 12 people and wounded several others,” she said. “His actions have had a profound and everlasting effect on the families of the victims.
“I don’t know why he did what he did, and I’ll never be able to ask him why. Aaron is now in a place where he can no longer do harm to anyone, and for that I am glad.
“To the families of the victims, I am so, so very sorry that this has happened. My heart is broken.”
NYPD clergyman Bishop Dr. Gerald Seabrook met with Alexis’ mom.
“The mother is very sad, but she’s a very strong woman whose heart goes out to the victims of what happened,” he said. “Just put yourself in her position right now and image what she’s going through.”
Also on Wednesday, families began claiming the bodies of their loved ones from the medical examiner’s office in Washington.
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